‘Lead’ the way to a good time

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By Johnathan Kroncke

Antonio Banderas stars in “Take the Lead”. (New Line Cinema)

By Johnathan Kroncke

It takes more strength to follow than to lead.

Antonio Banderas (“Assassins,” “The Legend of Zorro”) leads a group of inner-city delinquents to follow their hearts and dreams in the true life drama, “Take the Lead.”

Pierre Dulaine, played by Banderas, is a ballroom dance instructor in New York City, teaching only the elite rising stars in the dance world. But a chance encounter with a troubled youth nick named Rock leads him to a rough, urban high school where graduation is secondary to survival.

Rock, played by Rob Brown (“Finding Forrester,” “Coach Carter”) and the rest of the so-called high school “rejects” spend their time after school in a dungeon-like basement with nothing more to do than listen to hip-hop and argue amongst themselves.

Even if these kids do survive their formative years, they see no pathway out of their surroundings and feel doomed to be stuck in an endless cycle of poverty and crime. The principal, played by Alfre Woodard (“K-PAX,” “Radio”), has all but given up, struggling to even find a teacher willing to baby-sit them.

It is Dulaine who, after finding a way to connect to them, becomes the savior for both the students and faculty. However, he does more than just teach the kids how to dance. As he prepares them for an upcoming competition, Dulaine teaches them about respect, dignity and to see life as an opportunity as opposed to just a burden.

Banderas does an excellent job as Dulaine, conveying strength and emotion in subtle tones. While he rarely speaks in anything but a library voice, his passion and spirit come across stronger than if he were to shout. Banderas plays it cool and calm, similar to his character in “El Mariachi,” but without the guns.

Unfortunately, the audience is only given a brief glimpse into Dulaine’s personal life and the movie would have done well to develop that side of the story a little bit more. The slice of his life that we do see, however, enables us to see that he and the troubled students are not so different.

“Take the Lead” is all about finding a common ground between two things that are anything but common. No matter what background or tastes a person has, whether rich or poor, black or white, there is always something that they share with another person.

Dulaine taught that very principle to his students in real life. He was able to find a connection and not only show them a world of opportunity, but share with them a unique experience that changed their lives.

It is uncommon to find such messages in a movie in recent years. Too few have shown that there is more to a person than what can be perceived from the outside. “Crash” and “Capote” gave us something to think about last year.

Now, “Take the Lead” is not in the Academy Award-winning category that they are in, but it should not be taken lightly. It is a surprising movie with heartfelt acting and amazing dancing that, despite a few flaws in the story-telling, is quite well done.

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